Bob McKeon

JOURNEY TO JUSTICE

November 9, 2015

Last month, I attended an Edmonton conference called the Call to Action Summit.

It was organized to mobilize local community support for the 94 Calls to Action contained in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) report presented in Ottawa last June.

The Summit was organized by a group of indigenous and non-indigenous agencies working together with support from the city and the provincial governments.

The morning program started with the telling of the story behind the Grandin LRT station murals. The narrative told of how the different participants moved from a conflictual and confrontational stance to a new reality of reconciliation.

They did this through an extended time of listening, building trust, and moving into a new shared relationship of mutuality and respect. The result was portrayed through a new artistic creation.

LISTEN AND TELL STORIES

The theme of listening and storytelling was continued throughout the day.

Representatives from different organizations told of their local initiatives of working towards reconciliation between indigenous and non-indigenous peoples in the Edmonton region.

At the end of the conference, participants were asked to name their actions of reconciliation in their personal lives, workplaces and local neighbourhoods.

This gathering took place at a pivotal time in Edmonton’s history.

The Edmonton TRC national event that took place 18 months ago at the Shaw Conference Centre was an intense, transformative experience that is still having an impact today.

The recent Vital Signs report published by the Edmonton Social Planning Council and Edmonton Community Foundation provides important statistical information.

Over 61,000 indigenous people now call Edmonton home, the second largest urban indigenous population in Canada.

The median age of indigenous Edmontonians is 25.8 years old, 10 years younger than the median age of the overall population.

Edmonton’s future success depends on all of us finding new ways of working together and supporting each other.

But there are serious challenges. The indigenous poverty rate (adults and children) is twice that of the overall population.

The 2014 Edmonton Homeless Count noted that 46 per cent were indigenous.

However, there is also good news. The indigenous high school completion rate in Edmonton Catholic Schools almost doubled (from 26.2 per cent to 50 per cent) in the years from 2009 to 2013.

ELECTION PROMISES

Recent elections show promise that the TRC Calls to Action will be taken seriously.

The victorious federal Liberals under Justin Trudeau, in their election platform, promised government enactment of the TRC recommendations and implementation of the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).

Alberta Premier Rachael Notley, shortly after her election, sent a mandate letter telling all her government ministers to review the existing policies and programs in their department in order “to identify ways to implement the objectives and principles of UNDRIP.”

Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson continues to give strong municipal leadership on issues relating to reconciliation with indigenous peoples.

In a similar manner, Pope Francis in Laudato si’ calls for special care to be given for indigenous communities and their culture traditions, especially when “large projects affecting their land are proposed.” (para. 146).

There are some small, but significant actions, in the local Catholic community.

On the editorial page of recent issues of the WCR, you will see the note: “Thank you to the First Nations of Treaty Six for allowing us to live and work on their ancestral lands.”

At the October Trustees meeting of the Edmonton Catholic School District, a motion was passed that there be a public statement at future meetings acknowledging that the meetings are taking place on Treaty Six lands.

EDUCATION EVENTS

The Star of the North Retreat House, together with the local Oblate Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation (JPIC) Committee, is planning to host quarterly public educational events on following up the TRC Calls to Action.

The local Archdiocesan Development and Peace committee is organizing two Aboriginal 101 public study sessions in November.

There are lots of other community and ecumenical church events taking place in Edmonton and across Alberta.

It is important to build on the momentum coming from the TRC events in Edmonton and across the country.

Find helpful conversation partners in your life. Learn the history and stories of the land that is your home.

(Bob McKeon: rmckeon55@gmail.com)